When we first started re-provisioning this summer, we thought we would be out of the US for two years. 24 months of stuff. What what? That’s a lot of stuff on a 60 foot boat. The good news / bad news is that we are only leaving the US for six months this season as we’ve delayed our trip to Panama (oh thanks COVID). But six months still equates to a lot of everything, from soap to tomato paste to dryer sheets.
But wait, you probably are asking, can’t you buy Tide detergent in Mexico? Or mayo? Or chicken? Of course you can. So why did we do all this advance shopping?
The answer is multi-fold. In some cases, we just really like certain things the way we like them. For other items, we just don’t like schlepping heavy things without a car. We have a red “old lady shopping cart” which works well but not with heavy loads of cleaning supplies. We’d rather leverage that cart space for important things… like beer, tequila and limes of course.
Red Rover is a big boat with lots of storage space so we can approach things the way we do. I realize this doesn’t work quite as well with a smaller vessel or with a sailboat with limited refrigeration/freezer/pantry space. We know that our provisioning practices will change when we are out of the US quite permanently. But for now…
We also fully recognize that COVID is a shifty beast and that while we anticipate having freedom to roam in Mexico at this time, we know that things could change and we could find ourselves anchored out for a few months, much as we did last spring.
So why not be ready?
We’re doomsday preppers I guess. 😊
So how does one figure out how to provision a boat for 6 months? (Note fresh veggies, etc. are not a part of this equation.)
Step 1 – Take an Inventory
So what is already on the boat? What’s hiding in the back of that cupboard? Is it 3 years past the pull date yet? To be honest, I was lazy with some of this and gave the pantries a cursory glance. I opened the chest freezer and freezer drawers and poked around. And I worked up my initial spreadsheet. Alas, this did not serve me well when I came home from shopping trip #1 and did a real inventory. And, of course, then figured out all of the things I was missing.
I now have a robust multi-tab Excel spreadsheet with tabs for pantry, freezer, toiletries, cleaning/paper goods. We know how much paprika is on the boat. So important. Ha! In Mexico, when other people shopped for us, I had a spreadsheet organized by area of the grocery store, in English and in my somewhat inaccurate Spanish. Spreadsheets work. I used to be the girl that only used Microsoft Word. My former business partners would be so amazed at my mad Excel skills.
A little snapshot of a very small part of the spreadsheet (updated AFTER shopping) is below.
|Pantry Items – General Inventory (may not be exact and mostly does not include open stock)|
|Item||Quantity||Location||NEED?||Open or Used Date||Open/Used Qty|
|Vegs in Cans, Jars & Pouches|
|Artichoke hearts (plain)||5||Downstairs pantry|
|Artichoke hearts (marinated)||4||Downstairs pantry|
|Artichoke hearts (grilled)||1 package||galley|
|Sliced black olives||8 down/1 galley||Downstairs pantry/galley||10.25||1 used|
|Big green stuffed olives||1||Downstairs pantry|
|Marinated olives (mix)||2 big, 3 small pouches||galley|
|Bamboo shoots (can)||3||2 downstairs, 1 galley|
|Water chestnuts||3||2 downstairs, 1 galley|
|Whole young corn||1||galley||BUY 2|
|Sundried tomatoes||5 bags||slider/downstairs pantry|
|Pine nuts||1 bag||slider|
|Sesame seeds||Whole foods bulk container||slider|
Step 2 – Figure Out: What do we really use/eat/cook with? And how much?
Once we know how much stuff we had, we thought about what we might use.
We already think about fuel, oil and other engine consumables in our planning. How many gallons of diesel does the big 20kw generator eat in an hour (1.6 gallons at 60% load) vs the baby 6kw generator (.66 gallons at 100% load). Or how many gallons of engine oil do we need for oil changes (the main engine takes 11 gallons, the wing takes 2.5 gallons, the big gen takes 2.1 gallons and the baby gen takes 1 gallon)? And yes, we do have 70+ gallons of oil standing by, ready to go, on board.
Why not figure out what we consume with our personal items and food in this same way?
If you use a deodorant in 6 weeks how many do you need for 2 years? (We did buy 2 years worth of some items prior to making the decision to stay in Mexico. Let’s just say we are set with deodorant and toothpaste for eons.) Or how about laundry soap? If you do 4 loads a week how many soaps is that? Or… ketchup. How much ketchup does one family consume in 2 years (hint: it can be a lot). How many rolls of marine acceptable toilet paper do we use? That can bring you to a discussion of who uses more and why. Hmm.
For groceries, some people figure out by what meals they might make and then create an ingredient driven spreadsheet which is super awesome. We’re a little more free-form than that. We think about how we cook, what unusual ingredients we use a lot of, and what we’d like to have on hand for say, someone’s upcoming 50th birthday. And then we did some hardcore guessing.
That said, I have always been an over-shopper. When they were growing up, my kids made fun of me when I came home from Costco with an SUV full of food. But we ate really well. Apparently it was just training to provision a boat!
This year, as we are not going to Panama we are going to track our use and purchases. We’ll have a better idea for next year of what we really need for two years. Maybe tracking all of this is overkill, but hey, I have time and I like to analyze things. It’s interesting.
Step 3 – Shop til You Drop
Our shopping was completed in a series of car trips and some virtual trips with big shopping carts on Amazon. We did this when we had a rental car and a dock with good dock carts. Carrying 120 lbs of dog kibble on your back isn’t fun. Not one bit.
Costco was our destination for meat for the freezer, coffee, cleaning supplies and items that can be easily broken down into smaller elements. No gigunda tub of mayo – it would take up the whole fridge!
Why do we buy meat in the US? We just like it better. It’s probably what we’re accustomed to eating. We bought many pounds of chicken breasts and thighs, steak, hamburger, formed hamburgers, pork chops, pork tenderloins. And then bags and containers of cheese – mozzarella, parmesan, blue, goat, cheddar. We buy cotija like crazy when we get to Mexico. Yum.
Target, Ralph’s and Vons were our next stops for everything from tomato sauce to hibiscus tea to that oh so necessary ketchup.
Amazon brought many boxes to our temporary postal box in San Diego and to our daughter’s doorstep in Marina del Rey. So. Many. Boxes. I swear, we could start a cardboard recycling business all on our own.
Step 4 – Package it, label it and find it a home
We have two vacuum packers. Two. Neither of them is that great. I think we need an industrial one! We separated all of the meat into 2-person meal sizes, sealed them up, labeled them and carefully stuffed them in the freezer and freezer drawers in categories for easy sourcing later. Pork is all in this area, chicken in that spot, you get the idea.
For pantry items, cleaning supplies and paper goods, we carefully entered the quantities into the spreadsheet and the location of where we stashed each item. We tried to keep similar items in the same area to have it be logical.
This all worked pretty well until we got to the dog food. Last year we had a problem with dog food developing… bugs. Ick. So this year we have vacuum packed it in quantities that match our storage tub in the galley. 120 lbs. of dog food is A LOT of dog food. Where did we put it? Under the drawers under the bed of course!
We did figure out how to put everything away – from the engine oil to the LaCroix (I know, I know… but… it is so good). We are a floating mini-Costco. If you see us out on the water and you need some Grey Poupon, don’t hesitate to hail us. Of course we have it.
Red is full of fuel, full of food and ready to go. Time to head south!